March 2019 Honduras coup update
At the beginning of this month, people commemorated that 4 years had passed since Berta Caceres the indigenous feminist environmentalist and anticapitalist leader was murdered, and continued to question how those who had ordered the murder were getting away with this. A teacher and writer who lived a life critical of the dictatorship regimes was murdered. Meanwhile, another school is left with no teachers. The pandemic also arrived in Honduras this month, devastating a people already hungry, lacking healthcare access, and militarised, bringing about a much worse state of affairs.
Four years after they killed Berta Caceres
2 March 2020 marks the passing of four years since the assassination of indigeous defender and leader Berta Cáceres who fought to defend the Rio Blanco River from DESA hydroelectricity company, and had been a prominent social leader since her youth, against patriarchy, colonisation, and capitalism. People from different organisations (even the UN was there) travelled to La Esperanza to gather over a weekend in the Utopia Centre of Gathering and Friendship of Copinh’s, undertaking a range of activities beginning with the screening of the documentary ‘Desenredar el ser’ (Unchain the being), and ending with a march around town at night with fire torches. While 7 people have been sentenced as perpetrators of the murder, people continue to call for justice. They demand that those who organised the murder in affiliation with state forces - the owners of DESA company, who are members of the Atala Zablah family - be put behind bars. The family members in question are: Daniel Atala Midence, Jacobo Atala Zablah, José Eduardo Atala Zablah and Pedro Atala Zablah.
Anti coup anti dictatorship teacher and writer murdered in his car
On 6 March 2020, in the city of Santa Barbara, beloved teacher, writer, and an antagonist against the JOH and previous dictatorships, Victor Manuel Rodríguez Paz, was driving his car. Victor was going to take one of his four children to school, when unidentified attackers in another vehicle stopped him and fired at least 24 gunshots at his car. 18 of these gunshots shot through the front side of the car, and six at and past the driver’s door, squarely aiming at Victor’s body. Victor died in his car. The attackers fired all these gunshots, and fled. Police came and cordoned off the murder scene. Hours later, forensic medicine came and transported his body to the prosecutors’ morgue. Victor was a teacher at La Independencia public school where he had taught for the past 15 years, and before that he taught at Dolores college. His fellow teachers and admin staff and students are all in shock and miss him dearly. Victor was very dedicated, committed and responsible with his work. He had written four books, and the city’s students read them in class. Victor was always at the marches against the coup and the dictatorship and was affiliated with the teachers’ unions Copemh and Colprosumah. Of his four children, the youngest is a one month old baby who won’t know their dad except through others and through his books. Victor's brother was murdered two years ago, and his father murdered ten years ago.
Education sector local struggle in Arenales
School was also still on, on 10 March 2020, but not in Arenales community, where the Lenca Lenca indigenous people decided not to send their children to school, after barricading the highway the day before demanding that the Education Secretary Bueso address the problem of the school not having teachers.
COVID-19, militarisation, and famine unfolds in Honduras
The COVID-19 pandemic's impact on peoples already in turmoil is beyond massive. Such as in the case of Honduras, which has been living under dictatorships since 2009, where the people are in struggle and bloodily persecuted. Where 64% of the population live in poverty and most people live under the informal economy, and what their families eat each day depends on what they have earnt that day, making stockpiling impossible. A good proportion of Hondurans also rely on remittances from family members in the US, and the US is hit severely by the pandemic, likely cutting off such remittances as survival for these family members become more difficult. It’s impossible also to practise isolation and frequent handwashing within the homes because people live in overcrowded conditions; most people share rooms, and a lot of people, like those in the capital city, often have no water coming out of their taps, with irregular water service because of dried rivers and dams from extractive projects. The hospitals are as bare as they come in terms of staffing, medicines, equipment, and PPE because the dictatorships have stripped these bare, rediverting health funds towards electoral campaigns and otherwise into pockets of those already rich.
While real numbers are unknown – the first confirmed cases in Honduras appeared on 11 March 2020, with two cases. One of whom was a 4 year old child who had returned from Texas, in the US. By 16 March 2020, with confirmed cases going up to three from two, and the addition of three suspected cases, a curfew and lockdown was announced to start at 10pm that night. The regime announced the measures that were to last for one week, and a ‘package’, that was approved behind closed doors back on 13 March 2020, of US0 million (from congress, CABEI, executive, EU, etc), claiming that the regime will build 94 hospitals in 6 months, provide equipment – including obtaining 100 ventillators - and staff these hospitals. But there are no mentions of fixing up existing hospitals, and it was announced that there would be no tendering process – so it had in effect signed itself a blank cheque, to pass funds to JOH’s allies, and further privatise the health sector, while not channeling the money to address the pandemic and the needs of the population during this pandemic, protecting only those who are well off.
With the curfew and lockdown, in the cities with the confirmed cases (this list increases over time), people were told to stay home, and the streets were filled with police and soldiers to impose this. Within 24 hours, the regime took advantage of the pandemic curfew in Choluteca and on this first morning of lockdown and curfew, had 10 unmasked police (in the context of the pandemic) surround the home of political activist Aleyda Huete and arrest her without a capture order. The police had for months been persecuting Aleyda, aged 50, who is a leader of Bastión del Sur, a social organisation in the region that organises against the dictatorship. The region has been impressively solid and belligerent in their weekly protests for what must now be three years. Back on 19 December 2019, the police had raided her home looking for her, and when they didn’t find her there they took her partner Felipe Esquivel instead. When Felipe refused to give up information on his partner when interrogated, he was held as a political prisoner ever since. Aleyda had been in hiding for three months away from her home and family, and must have just returned when she was captured because of the pandemic. Aleyda would also currently be a political prisoner, except a massive bail of US00 was scraped together for her release. Aleyda is to appear in court starting 31 March 2020.
Another measure the regime rushed to introduce at the same time as the lockdown was the conversion of the sports stadium Villa Olimpica into a place to confine people with confirmed COVID-19, laying out the gym with makeshift beds. No more was heard about its use during March 2020 by people with confirmed COVID-19, but a group of 25 who travelled to Honduras from neighbouring Nicaragua were forced to isolate themselves there rather than in the homes they were going to. They feared that while they were there the regime would admit people with actual confirmed COVID-19, and expose them to the virus. Neighours of the stadium also protested, because the stadium had two nursing homes very close by, and also because the stadium is an inadequate space for people to look after themselves or be looked after in. The regime has access to hotels and to military buildings with facilities, and these should be given.
Initially during the lockdown, even supermarkets were closed. However, softdrink workers union STIBYS denounced that softdrink workers were made to keep working and not provided PPE. Similarly, workers in monocrop industries were not provided PPE. After the first day of lockdown, deemed essential services such as hospitals, pharmacies and supermarkets were left open along with softdrinks production and distribution. There was panic buying, by those with the means to. Most people normally rely on markets, street vendors and corner shops for their daily needs, because it is more affordable, and as a form of mutual aid, too, since the supermarkets belong to the elite of the country. Markets were not allowed to exist during the pandemic, people weren’t even allowed to sell things in front of their homes.
Within days, people could bear the hunger no more, and protests began sporadically. On 23 March 2020 in a neighbourhood usually alive with street vendors in Tegucigalpa, there is an image from this day of some burning tyres illuminating the night and kids jumping up and down chanting, ‘we want food!’. Similarly, on 23 March 2020, there were protests around and reports of police abuse, teargas bombs and arrests began to flood in. People in Comayagua who protested demanding food were attacked. People in the relatively empty market streets in Tegucigalpa had a police patrol pass through, shoot teargas at them, evict them and then drive on. Many others, mostly out looking for food and medicine, were arrested and bashed by police, who refused to listen to people’s reasons for being out. The most shocking case of this day was of police arresting five guys who were approaching a pop up soup kitchen for a feed outside the Ramon Ayaya Amador housing complex in Comayaguela, Tegucigalpa. Women who belong to the Iniciativa Mesoamericana organised and were serving food there in effort to share food at a time when many are starving and struggling. The arrestees were Luís Sierra, Yimy Paguada, Wilmer Hernández, Wilmer Alejandro Hernández (son of Wilmer Hernández), and Edilberto Girón López. Police took them to the police station and threatened the women serving the food with ‘we will come back for you’. The women regretfully packed up and stopped sharing food and went back to their homes. They also quickly got Iniciativa Mesoamericana to place pressure on the police to release the five, as did human rights organisation Cofadeh, and achieved their release relatively quickly.
The problem is, even at this time when US0 million is poured into supposedly addressing the pandemic, not only is the health system rotten and not getting extra supports, there are no supports to help people stay at home. The only welfare package heard of is the meagre US food aid package (for which US,000 has been assigned), which is only given to those who are poor AND show support for the National Party. People who make a living by selling things everyday say, if you won’t give us food, at least let us work and sell things to feed ourselves. Initially, the lockdown was said to be for one week, but as each week passes, another week of lockdown and curfews is announced. So protests have continued, as have cases of people being arrested while outside of their homes, mostly seeking essential services of food and medicine – the tally of COVID-19 arrestees quickly went up to over 500 – some obtained bail or were otherwise released, others remain locked up. When questioned by the media, about when they will be released, police official Zavala said, ‘when the emergency is over’, and to other questions such as, ‘is the detention registered? Are they processed in the prosecution? Are they given food and treated with dignity? Are there measures of safety and sanitiation? Can they communicate with their families?’ There are no responses from police. What’s more, there are images circulating of arrestees forced to undergo military training and forced labour. There are grave concerns for the welfare and lives of those arrested, at a time when prison must be the least safe place to be.
On 26 March 2020 there were 52 confirmed cases, and the first case of someone with COVID-19 having died. With this backdrop, in Marcala, La Paz, a councillor Marlon Calles who had been persecuted for some time for being against extractive projects, was harassed. The Health officials arrived at his house to inform him that he and his 64-year-old mother are suspected of having COVID-19 and must undergo testing. His mother had an emergency surgery recently and the pair have had to travel to hospital in Tegucigalpa 153 kms away on a routine basis, and it was on account of the frequent travel that they were named suspects. This did more than make their blood boil - it made his mother Paula faint.
On 27 March 2020, in the neglected and isolated area of Brus Laguna, Gracias a Dios, in the context of the curfew and the police suspecting a youth of not complying with the curfew, the police shot at the kid. People are of course outraged and say they would set the police station on fire.
On 29 March 2020, two weeks from the first confirmed case, there were 139 confirmed cases, from which 3 had died, and 3 had recovered. In Opatoro, La Paz, human rights defenders who were designated ‘assistants’ in their communities were ordered by council director Celin López to participate in a roster to watch that nobody unauthorised drives through the entrances to the town. They are obligated to do this, undertake 12 hour shifts, they are not paid, they are not even provided with food let alone masks or gloves, they are not facilitated with a place to rest during their shift, they are not even treated with dignity, and instead are belittled and made fun of. There are people in the community who are in solidarity with them though and bring them food.
On 30 March 2020 there were 141 confirmed cases including 3 healthcare workers. Remember that workers do not have access to adequate PPE, there are no N95’s for healthcare workers or hospital cleaners, but white collar state and parliamentarian employees do have access not only to special masks but disposable overalls. Stories continue to be heard of people protesting and being repressed, such as in Cholutecas, where people organised in Colonias Unidas (united neighbourhoods), protesting to demand water and food, and instead received state teargas bombs, shot in the street between their homes.
On 31 March 2020, there were 9 deaths from COVID-19, including the first healthcare worker to have died from COVID-19 in Honduras, Dr Denise Roxana Murillo. She was seen to have recently pled on facebook to Hondurans, please stay at home, even if you are hungry, drink water. It was only two days before when she felt symptoms and decided to self-isolate at home, and the next day when her condition worsened she was admitted to hospital and drips were attached to her body in an attempt to keep her alive, there was not adequate equipment available in the hospital to stabilise her, and she died. This same day, as Radio Globo journalist Lidieth Díaz was driving to work, a group of police detained her and threatened with confiscating her car and licence.
The month wrapped up with a lot of questions of just how the US0 million is being spent, and also, like in Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine, while the regimes of the world take advantage of the pandemic and divert attention, what are they covering up and pushing through? President JOH’s brother’s sentence for drug trafficking. Hospitals obviously continue to be in a shocking state. Lots is spent on teargas bombs against hungry people. What concessions are dished out to what industries? What is being more privatised?